Military officials pledge to identify safe drinking water to homeowners most impacted in 2019
Dan Sanderson | Staff Writer
A pilot project to confine cancer causing agents from a firefighting foam has been implemented at the Grayling Army Airfield, and military officials pledged to find a safe source of drinking water to homeowners whose wells have been tainted by the foam.
A public meeting was held on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at the Kirtland Community College Health Science Community Room to update Grayling area residents on a drinking water investigation being completed by state and federal officials.
The National Guard Bureau issued a directive two years ago to identify water sources at every training facility, camp, fort, and armory. The order also included every installation which had an airfield where fire crash training occurred, or where fires occurred with the use of aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF).
Water samples taken at the Grayling Army Airfield, where the foam was used for training purposes, tested positive for the chemicals in the fall of 2016.
Between 2013 and 2015, federal officials mandated that every municipal drinking water system in the nation be tested for Perfluorinated compounds – PFCs or PFAS.
There are just over a dozen PFCs which were in common use, including Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) health advisory for acceptable levels of just those two compounds is 70 parts per trillion.
The firefighting foam used in the training contained the chemicals.
As of last week, 677 water samples have been completed with 17 which have been tested above the health advisory.
On property located around Lake Margrethe, 447 residential water wells have been sampled with two coming in above the health advisory.
More recently groundwater samples were collected from 12 monitoring wells at Maneuver and Training Equipment Site (MATES) and Range 30, located off of North Down River Road. One of those 12 groundwater samples collected at the facility contained a combined concentration of PFOA plus PFOS greater than 70 parts per trillion.
Twenty-three private water wells have been tested in that area for the chemicals by homeowners who have consented to have their wells tested.
Yet another area of concern raised at the meeting last week was around Borcher’s Way, which is located near the entrance of Camp Grayling and Lake Margrethe.
A total of 13 samples have been taken from monitoring wells, with three detected above the health advisory.
Resident Heather Bennett asked if more monitoring wells would be installed in that location.
Resident John Alef had the same concern, and asked if monitoring wells would be installed on Camp Grayling property to track the flow of ground water.
“It sounds odd to me, intuitively, that is hottest spot on the map,” Alef said. “As far as contamination, why wouldn’t you want to see if there is more of a flow to the south of that?”
Military and environmental officials said the monitoring wells will be tested on a quarterly basis. In addition, plume maps and 3D renderings will be made available to residents in 2019.
“The plume could be stable and it may not be moving, but you can’t tell that until you monitor those wells over time,” said David Linsday, project manager from the DEQ’s Remediation and Redevelopment Division based in Gaylord.
Jonathan Edgerly, a natural resource analyst for the Michigan Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, said a pilot project involving the use of a new technology called PlumeStop is being used at the airfield. The technology secures rapid groundwater contaminant concentration coupled with enhanced bio-destruction. The technology, which is being used at airfield, acts like a household water filter.
Funding to address the contamination would come through the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act. More commonly known as the Superfund Act, the federal law was adopted to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous waste sites as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment.
Col. Ed Hallenbeck, the commander for Camp Grayling, said the EPA’s Time Critical Removal Action plan would be used to secure funding to pay for permanent sources of safe drinking water to homeowners impacted by the tainted water. That could involve drilling new water wells, or hooking up to a municipal water system.
“We trying to do that sooner so that we can get them off bottled water and filtered water,” Hallenbeck said.
Col. Bill Meyer, the facilities and environmental director for the National Guard Bureau, said the funding could be allocated before scientists find tainted water that needs to be secured or soils that have to be removed.
“We don’t want to wait until the end of a remedial investigation or clean-up to address that,” Meyer said. “We want to address that as soon as we can.”
Military officials sought to gather names of people who want to serve on a local restoration and advisory board to come up with solutions to the issue of acquiring safe drinking water.
Arnold Leriche sits on restoration and advisory board in Oscoda, where the Wurtsmith Air Force base was located. Concentrations of AAAF are much higher there than those discovered in Grayling.
Leriche said military officials have been open to taking citizen input.
“We have a seat at the table and we have a voice,” Leriche said.
The DEQ tested lake foam, lake water, a hand pump, and a residential well on Lake Margrethe for PFOS/PFOA. The results found elevated levels of PFOA in some of the lake foam samples, and trace amounts of other PFAS in lake water samples and the private well.
As a precaution, District Health Department #10 recommends that swallowing foam or lake water be avoided. Additionally, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has issued Eat Safe Fish guidelines for fish caught from Lake Margrethe and the AuSable River upstream of the Mio Dam as they relate to PFOS and mercury.
Resident Mike Buchrey questioned if the foam would flow out of the lake into Portage Creek and into the Manistee River. He also asked if the foam would taint the beaches on the lake.
Randy Rothe, the district supervisor for the DEQ’s remediation and redevelopment division in Gaylord, said the foam is very soluble and it is hard to find large concentrations of foam for an effective sample.
“Where they’re finding this stuff, it dissolves right back into the water,” Rothe said. “You’re not finding anything in the soil from foam.”
Rothe said an exchange of data will occur between the DEQ and National Guard to identify all potential sources for the water contamination.
“We look at it not only individually, but we look at it collectively to see if can get that big picture,” he said. “That’s why we’re collecting all this data.”